Archive for May, 2008

Community, Spiritual Formation

Update on Missio Dei

The folks at Missio Dei are currently studying the Gospel of John; we’re in chapter 1. We last studied Matthew’s version of the Sermon of the Mount. In three months, we covered three chapters. If the trend holds, we will be in John for somewhere into 2009. In fact, although it’s been three weeks since we began studying John 1, we can’t seem to get much past the prologue.

Of the Gospels, John’s is my favorite. Written last, it is far the most introspective and creative. Whereas the other three Evangelists, seem to rely on each other and whoever the ‘Q’ source was, John takes another tact entirely. Instead a writing a biography of Jesus, John wrote a theology of Christ. He doesn’t trace Jesus’ life back to his baptism (like Mark), or back to his toddler years (like Luke) or back to his infancy (like Matthew), he tracks back before the creation of the Universe, into the very origin of God. By so doing he begins to reinterpret the meta-narrative by which existence itself is understood… by either Greeks or Jews.

Books / Readings, Change!?!, Leadership

Simple Church?

I just read a book called, Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. The premise of the book is that growing, vital churches are those who keep things simple. Do either of the following illustrations apply to your church?

We live in a fast-food world with super-size me expectations. Here’s one quote from the book:

“There is an epidemic of fast-food spirituality among believers today. We like big spiritual menus with lots of options. And we want those options served fast.

Many churches have become like fast-food establishments. A new idea emerges, and the menu is expanded. Someone wants a special event served in a particular way, and the menu is expanded. People assume that the more that can be squeezed into the menu, the better. So the brochure, the week, the calendar, the schedule, and the process gets expanded. Cluttered.” (p.199)

I’ve seen churches add more and more programs to the “menu” of their activities. Its very difficult to stop doing something when something new is added. We find it hard to lay things to rest, and so we just add more to the calendar. This creates a huge problem for smaller and mid-size congregations. We all have a finite amount of time and energy. If the church continually asks for more, something is going to suffer! (For some help in laying to rest a ministry, go to “Closing Down a Ministry”. Here you can listen to an 80 second presentation by Leith Anderson.)

Here’s another thought: churches, like people, can be thought of as pack rats. When I first arrived at my last congregation as pastor, I was amazed by the amount of stuff (mostly ancient records) that cluttered the church office. There was no space to put away anything new.

Programs and activities can be another source of clutter. Here’s another quote from page 204: “Many churches are littered with clutter. Floundering programs and ministries are stored and piled on top of one another. It is hard for people to make their way through the process of spiritual transformation because of the distracting clutter. . . it is interpersonally and historically challenging (to eliminate programs). People and history are involved.”

The solution can be summarized in four words: Clarity — Movement — Alignment — Focus.

Clarity: How clear is the mission or God’s calling upon your church?

Movement: How well are you moving your people through the process of connecting with God, growing in discipleship and getting engaged in ministry?

Alignment: How does everything your congregation does align with its mission and process for developing disciples?

Focus: How well are you able to keep the church focused on the above and free from distracting clutter of other (new) programs, activities or special events?

This book is an easy read, though you have to wait to the final chapter to really understand how to develop a “Simple Church”. Obviously, it would be a lot easier to create a simple church in a church plant vs. those of you in congregations that are decades old.

Have any of you read this book and tried to apply its principles? If so, has it helped? I’d love to hear from you!


Spiritual Formation

The Presence of Possibilities

In deleting old email from my computer, I opened-up a special CoB Newsline from March 12th. The Newsline feature article was on the proposed merger of the Association of Brethren Caregivers (A.B.C.) and the General Board. In the article, I read a quote from Eddie Edmonds, pastor in West Virginia and chair of the A.B.C. Board. During the presentation he said, “God doesn’t deliver us fully developed. He delivers us into the presence of possibilities.

Rather than quickly deleting this email, I had to ponder this thought. I think it was a “God-thing” to see it today. I love the idea that God delivers us into the presence of possibilities! I must confess that in my immature faith that sometimes I expect God to have something “perfect” that I need to search for and find. Yet, in my journey with Christ, I often find that great things come when least expected. I’m not searching for the unexpected blessing. It’s just a gift from God!

Can you resonate with Eddie’s words? Any illustrations from your life you care to share?

Blessings to you,

Books / Readings, Change!?!, Missional

Dan Kimball in PSWD

The Pacific Southwest District held their annual Spring Event recently. This year’s speaker was Dan Kimball. Dan at Spring Event.

Dan was asked to speak on the topic, They Like Jesus But Not the Church. His presentation was one of the most engaging ones we’ve had in the history of this event. He began by talking about how most Christians live within a “Christian bubble”. They shop at Christian stores, listen to Christian music, fill their calendars with Christian activities (inside and outside their local church) and hang-out with their Christian friends. While some may think this is a great life-style, Dan points out how this isolates us from those whom Christ is calling us to reach. The more we are isolated from them, the less we understand how they think and what we might do to actually reach them. In his book by the same title he writes, “Christians are now the foreigners in a post Christian Culture and we have got to wake up to this reality. . .”

He continued his presentation by sharing how we need to think of ourselves as missionaries in our neighborhoods. He also writes in his book, “When missionaries enter another culture, they listen, learn, study the spiritual beliefs of the culture, and get a sense of what the cultures’ values are. They may try to discover what experiences this culture has had with Christians and what the people of the culture think of Christianity. Missionaries in a foreign culture don’t practice the faiths or embrace the spiritual beliefs of that culture, but they do respect them, since the missionaries are on the other cultures’ turf. . .”

For the rest of the presentation, he touched on the following points in his book of why people don’t like the church. Though we may not agree with the following points, Dan shares that these are the perceptions of what others have on the church.
1) The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
2) The church is judgmental and negative.
3) The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
4) The church is homophobic.
5) The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
6) The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

I met with Dan in February and the night before the event to help him understand who the Brethren are and what might best work in his presentation (I had seen it twice before.). Of this list, the idea that we oppress females isn’t true in this district. In fact the two largest churches have women as pastors. Since the PSWD has had difficulty in dealing with the homosexual conversation in years past, I encouraged him to touch on the topic, show the video interview he has, stress how we need to be hospitable to all people, and move on.

At this point of the day, his coffee really started kicking-in. After he shared his material on how others think of the church as homophobic, he asked, “How does this issue play-out in the Church of the Brethren? How do you deal with the issue?”. For a moment, fear kicked-in. We had people from open and affirming congregations and people from the other side of the issue both present. What happened over the next 45 minutes was totally a gift from God! Dan led a discussion where people lovingly and respectfully discussed the issue of gay and lesbian involvement in the church and how we should reach out and care for them. It was a totally amazing time!

If you or others struggle with evangelism or being missional, I would highly recommend his book. This material can be helpful in changing our attitudes towards those outside the church and give us understanding on how they might be thinking. Zondervan has also created a DVD curriculum to teach the materials in the book in 6 small group sessions. It also has sermon outlines and shorter video clips to play in a worship service.

It was great to be surprised and blessed by God at the PSWD Spring Event!

Change!?!, Understanding Context

By the Manner of their Living?

So I was googling “Brethren Ordinances” recently and this popped up as choice #5. It’s a picture on Flickr of a horse and buggy underneath a Wells Fargo bank sign in Shipshewana, IN (a very Amish town). The guy captioned the picture by saying something about there being a lot of Church of the Brethren congregations around and so when he looked them up online he was really impressed with what it shared on wikipedia—he linked the whole article! =)

One of the comments to the picture said: “Ironic-I was just reading about the Church of the Brethren a few weeks ago. Considering how many times I have been to Shipsee I thought it was high time I learn a little about the people. It is all very interesting.”

See the image linked here:

As our church youth group prepares to lead worship on Sunday with the theme of “By the manner of their living–” an Alexander Mack quote– I wonder just how the CoB is recognized in 2008. Is it our non-conformity, the manner of our living and loving, the building of authentic community, peacemaking? What niche are you finding in your various communities– not just for the sake of outreach and evangelism, but because of truly living God’s call to mission?